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Literary Analysis: Slave Narratives

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Prior to the publication of any slave narrative, African Americans had been represented by early historians’ interpretations of their race, culture, and situation along with contemporary authors’ fictionalized depictions. Their persona was often “characterized as infantile, incompetent, and...incapable of achievement” (Hunter-Willis 11) while the actions of slaveholders were justified with the arguments that slavery would maintain a cheap labor force and a guarantee that their suffering did not differ to the toils of the rest of the “struggling world” (Hunter-Willis 12). The emergence of the slave narratives created a new voice that discredited all former allegations of inferiority and produced a new perception of resilience and ingenuity.

Frederick Douglass’s and Harriet Jacobs’s narratives both focused on self-made individuals who experienced upward mobility through their own efforts and hard work, therefore partaking in the positive redefining of African Americans. The writing methods of each differed in the style in which they presented their narratives where Douglass took on a sermonic style and Jacobs employed the “sentimental novel” (Alonzo 119) formula. While Douglass presented the sufferings of slaves in the fields, he attempted to describe the toils of women through his aunt’s afflictions but “failed...to accurately address and interpret” (Hunter-Willis 2) her experience as a slave. In this lack of representation of female slaves, Jacobs was bestowed with the opportunity to give voice to female slaves and to redefine their womanhood through her narrative. Jacobs’s “purpose and intended audience” (Wolfe 518) remained constant in arousing “the women of the North...of the condition of two millions of women at the South” (...

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... W.W. Norton &, 2004. 387-452. Print.

Hunter-Willis, Miya. Writing the Wrongs: A Comparison of Two Female Slave Narratives. Diss. Marshall University, 2008. Dissertations & Theses: Full Text, ProQuest. Web. 22 Sep. 2011.

Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself. Ed. Jennifer Fleischner. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010. Print.

Peterson, Carla L. ""Forced to Some Experiment" :Novelization in the Writings of Harriet A. Jacobs, Harriet E. Wilson, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper." "Doers of the Word": African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830-1880). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1998. Print.

Wolfe, Andrea Powell. “Double-Voicedness in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”: “Loud Talking” to a Northern Black Readership.” ATQ 22.3 (2008): 517-525. World History Collection. EBSCO. Web. 24 Sep. 2011.
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